The Man in the High Castle 2.02: “The Road Less Traveled” Review

Asylum

A Television Review by Akash Singh

NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!

Philip K. Dick’s greatest accomplishment as a writer is his ability to create worlds that feel unique, alien, but so close to what we imagine within the purviews of our own existence that it becomes eerily prescient. The Man in the High Castle sticks out because it tackled one of the most fervently asked questions after World War II: what would our world look like if the Nazis had won? The Nazis occupy a specific place in our imagination because they stick out as such a powerful force of xenophobia that proved decisively that the Western world was just as capable of the savagery and inhumanity that was often only ascribed to the “savages in the East.” The Nazis were a nightmare of grandiose proportions and to see them with such a tight grasp on global power is one of the primary reasons this story hits so close to the horror it wants to depict (the recent political events, as noted in the previous review, help that horror considerably). That oppression is only believable if it feels pervasive and almost thoroughly inescapable. Otherwise the stakes and the seeming impossibility of the survival of the show’s protagonists feels unbelievable. A consequence of that, however, is that narratives don’t always feel as if there is progression forward in a significant direction. That was the primary problem of the show’s first season, where for chunks it felt as if Frank Spotnitz and his team were coasting on the show’s atmosphere and mood and not the actual thrill and intensity a story like this one should bring. “The Road Less Traveled,” while continuing the show’s trend of rather dull and clichéd titles, is one of the show’s best episodes to date. It eschews the languid pacing that characterized so much of the first season, instead ratcheting up that aforementioned tension and bringing real intrigue and stakes to characters that have so often lacked in some cases for both of them.

The most interesting characters remain the Japanese command structure, for better and for worse. The Man in the High Castle’s focus on the deteriorating partnership between the Nazis and the Japanese is considerably intelligent because it understands the fraught nature of how sustainable war partnerships can really be after a victory. The shades of the Cold War are thoroughly unmistakable between the two superpowers in this story, each espousing in some part the desire to keep the other in check. Individuals on both sides, however, find that the possibility of simply eliminating the other would prove to be more beneficial in the long run. That desire to eliminate the other has its origins within two specific ideas. The first is that the other superpower is going to destroy them so a preemptive strike becomes synonymous with safety. The second is the inherent gnawing greed that if there are only two superpowers in the world, why bother sharing that power with everyone else? An overwhelming aura of complete paranoia then becomes the defining feeling of the day and that paranoia slowly begins to drive everything forward and at the expense of everything else. General Onada’s desire to use the Heisenberg device against the Nazis arises from those two places but there’s also an understanding in his mind that it would be much simpler for the Nazis to obliterate the Japanese instead of the other way around (that officials in the Nazi high command recognize this as well only serves to confirm his fears). His plan to use buses full of non-Japanese civilians to strike a blow against the Third Reich is nevertheless considerably more horrifying and disgusting than any “security measure” needs to be and Trade Minister Tagomi recognizes it as much.

Chief Inspector Takeshi Kido becomes significantly more interesting himself as he becomes more thoroughly involved with efforts of subterfuge than he has ever been close to in the past. The ruthless head of the Kempetai has always been such and as far as he’s concerned, there simply isn’t a line he wouldn’t cross to keep true to what he believes his job would entail. I don’t know what his personal ethics are, but he’s rarely displayed outside of a professional context and it might be accurate that he simply doesn’t have a personal purview, even with his family involved. It would be fascinating to see Kido in an environment where he isn’t in professional charge, but for now, his interactions prove to be gold in a sharply written episode. His approach to Ed was typical at first, but the consequences of Ed’s confession to the murder of the Crown Prince become steadily more horrifying until it begins to read like someone was a little too inspired in the real world by the Saw franchise. Ed’s horrified expression is quite understandable at that juncture and he has a point when he notes that as far as he’s concerned, Kido enjoys the sadism that he is able to employ. There’s a certain point when an individual who wasn’t an outright sadist would pull back and think “Okay, I’m pretty sure this just crossed a line of basic human decency, regardless of my job.” Kido pulls through with his Yakuza connection, however, and neatly pins the blame on Karen Vecchione for the Crown Prince’s murder. Ed is released, but the espionage that Kido put into motion makes himself, Ed, and thankfully Frank all the more interesting for now regardless of whatever his plot actually turns out to be.

Juliana’s plight becomes significantly more complicated and wonderfully so. She is logically completely out of her depth after her bout with the Resistance and understandably so. She wasn’t completely enamored with her existence before and in spite of all of the misfortune that befell her in the first season, there was some semblance of stability when she was working in the office of the Trade Minister. That imploded rather quickly and Joe’s betrayal further alienated Juliana from some stability. That betrayal also had the additional effect of breaking Juliana’s relationship with the Resistance, a relationship that may have been helpful but based on how the Resistance has been depicted so far, maybe Juliana is better off asking for Trade Minister Tagomi’s help and after that seeking asylum from the Nazi state as a last resort. I simply don’t understand why the Resistance is so poorly drawn out in this series and after this otherwise terrific episode, it’s the plot point that sticks out so poorly. I have no hope for Joe Blake, but hopefully his Nazi commander father makes his storyline more interesting. But with the show trying to really become more heavily concerned with the Resistance towards its two fascist bureaucracies, it simply has to become more intelligent with how it writes that movement, or movements as may occur at some point in the future. I appreciate how difficult it is for the Resistance to accomplish anything but at the same time if it’s going to continue to be represented by the lackadaisical Lem Washington and the frankly psychopathic Gary Connell, who is at this point is really gunning (pun intended) for the unfortunate honor of being the dumbest character on a show where two thirds of the leads aren’t exactly known for their intelligence and wit.

+“They were also shooting at the woman they were with

+“Truth is, I know I should do more.” I really liked the depiction of Ron Whittaker, a sort of everyday man who despises his circumstances but places a higher price on his survival over everything else.

+“Lolita. Nelson Mandela. Cuban Missile Crisis.”

+“You don’t look like a man who was greeted like a hero.”

+“You’re about to die horribly, but your hair is fine.”

+The missing man in the films is George Dixon, aka Trudy’s father

+The suppressed editions was fantastic and to see Aldous Huxley in that mix gives me great pleasure

+“How can he be good if he’s black?” I am really interested in how this show deals with racism in this universe specifically directed towards black individuals

-“Is Huck good or bad?” Talk about being on the nose with your themes.

Great

8/10

Episode Title: The Road Less Traveled

Written by: Rob Williams

Directed by: Colin Bucksey

Image Courtesy: Vox

Musings:

Every review from now on will have links to organizations who are in need of resources. Please contribute if you are able:

Syrian Refugee/Refugee Crises

Preemptive Love Collection

World Vision

International Refugee Assistance Project

World Relief

White Helmets

Syria Relief

International Rescue Committee

Hand In Hand for Syria

Karam Foundation

Portland Refugee Support Group

Lutheran Community Services Northwest

Catholic Charities of Portland

Workers’s Justice

Interfaith Worker Justice

Voz Workers’s Rights Education Project

Medical Justice

Doctors Without Borders

The Syrian Medical Society

Women’s Reproductive Rights

Planned Parenthood

Center for Reproductive Rights

Environmental Justice

Neighbors for Clean Air

350 PDX

Natural Resources Defense Council

Friends of the Columbia Gorge

Columbia Riverkeepers

Sierra Club

OPAL Environmental Justice

Northwest Environmental Defense Center

Greenpeace

Audobon

Crag Law Center

Green Lents

Racial Justice

NAACP Legal Defense Fund

Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund

Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice

Don’t Shoot Portland

LGBTQIA Rights

The Trevor Project

Q Center

GLAAD

Friendly House

Equity Foundation

The Immigrant Legal Resource Center

Imperial Sovereign Rose Court

Human Rights Campaign

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